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Dispatches: Five Essential Reads From the Past Week

A collection of some of our most important and timely stories, from a look at how insurance companies are turning on homeowners in fire-prone regions to a write-up of a new report on how to change eating behavior.
A firefighting helicopter flies over a wildfire raging in the town of Rafina near Athens, on July 23rd, 2018. At least five people have died and more than 20 have been injured as wildfires tore through woodland and villages around Athens on Monday, while blazes caused widespread damage in Sweden and other northern European nations.

A firefighting helicopter flies over a wildfire raging in the town of Rafina near Athens, on July 23rd, 2018.

A rundown of five of our most important and timely stories from the past week.

  1. Fire season just keeps getting worse for Californians. After experiencing a record-setting number of wildfires last year and appearing to be set to break more records this year, residents are rightly concerned about the safety of their loved ones, their homes, and their property. But in another cruel twist, it turns out insurance companies are paying attention to the effects of climate change on the region as well, and, as Jackie Botts reports, many of them are opting out of providing coverage for homeowners in wildfire-prone regions, leaving many Californians unclear about what to do next and how much risk is too much. Read Botts' story here.
  2. We already know that hydraulic fracking comes with a number of costs: earthquakes, contaminated groundwater, and hydrocarbon emissions, to name just a few. But research from Duke University has found yet another problem with the practice—its water requirements. As editorial fellow Emily Moon discovered in talking with the lead author of a new report, based on trends from the past five years it's safe to say that future fracking will require far more water than previously estimated, a particularly troubling bit of news for water-scarce regions that depend on the industry. Read Moon's piece here.
  3. The effects of anti-immigration policy can sometimes be difficult for people to envision. Economic and cultural arguments can be intangible for many, and the subject lends itself to the fiery anti-immigrant rhetoric that has pervaded many Western countries in recent years. But in truth, immigration policies can have devastating personal consequences. Contributing writer Arvind Dilawar spoke with a woman who was forced to remain in multiple abusive relationships as a result of opaque and antagonistic immigration policies in the United States. As Tatyana, the woman Dilawar profiled, explains, the situation can be harrowing and extremely personal: "Threats were everywhere: 'I will deport you,' 'I will make sure that you will get deported first and your son will be kept in captivity in the United States,' 'you will never see him'—many things like that." Read Dilawar's story here.
  4. Changing a person's harmful behaviors is often quite difficult. Whether it comes to food choices, health habits, or environmental practices, old habits die hard. But as Sophie Yeo reports, new research from Stanford University has uncovered a potentially powerful way to influence people to take more responsible actions. Through leveraging something called "pre-conformity," the researchers found that, if you can convince someone that going vegetarian is the growing trend among their peers, then it's more likely that the person targeted for influence will conform to that practice. Read Yeo's piece here.
  5. President Donald Trump's Council of Economic Advisors recently released a report calling for newer and stronger work requirements for food stamp and medicaid recipients. This issue of work requirements has continued to be a talking point for the current administration and various conservative leaders around the country. But, as contributing writer Dwyer Gunn notes, a new federal survey illustrates that nutritional assistance recipients already do, in fact, work, but it's job security that can be difficult for people on the lower end of the economic spectrum to maintain. This means that the new initiative would not encourage more people to work, but instead punish the working poor by removing a program that helps them feed their families. Read Gunn's report here.

This dispatch originally appeared in The Lede, the weekly Pacific Standard email newsletter for premium members. The Lede gives premium members greater access to Pacific Standard stories, staff, and contributors in their inbox every week. While helping to support journalism in the public interest, members also receive a print magazine subscription, early access to feature stories, and access to an ad-free version of